Last week found me involved in an unusually high number of conversations about sociopathy. By now I’m no stranger to explaining my own experiences to incredulous people and then patiently answering their questions and putting in to plain words the fact that no, a sociopath will not even begin to know the meaning of the word ‘sorry’ let alone feel it!
“But surely Mel, I know if I’d done something even remotely as heartless as the person you’ve just described… well, I’d be eaten up with guilt! I couldn’t sleep at night!” they exclaim, eyes wide open and hands held to their face. “Surely deep down they must know they’ve done wrong and feel ashamed?”
Each time I hear that kind of response, I just smile, take a deep breath and prepare to explain in yet another way that no – these people simply don’t have the same responses that we do. They are devoid of conscience and empathy, they don’t feel sorry for the things they do, and in actual fact they don’t ‘feel’ emotions in the same way we do – period!
And that is where I believe it can be such a challenge for those of us to know to get others to believe what we’re saying. Because, as the French author Anais Nin so eloquently put it “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are” And of course it makes perfect sense. We use our own judgment and experiences to make sense of the world around us, and because we have a set of emotions and responses, we expect other human beings to have something similar.
The Looking Glass
This perfectly natural trait of human acceptance is also a response on which con-artists and tricksters depend. They’ll target honest open people who judge others as they judge themselves – and because they wouldn’t dream of deliberately conning another, they can’t comprehend that the person in front of them is anything other than who or what they profess to be. A variation on the old theme of “do as you would be done by” it’s a case of “understand according to your own experiences”. And when you think about it, how can anyone really be expected to understand other than from their own experiences?
It’s like, say, when we’re having a conversation with a friend and they’re explaining something they’ve seen or somewhere they’ve been without us for example. When things don’t quite make sense, we might screw up our face, scratch our chin, and search through our memory banks until we find something in our own experience that seems somewhat similar. Then we can make sense of what they’re saying and we say “ah, yes, now I know what you mean! You’re saying it’s like… blah blah…”
A disco mirror-ball invites us to do something similar. The broken up little squares might promise me a new perspective – but when I look in to it the reflection is still always the same. It’s me. How could it be anything else?
I remember when my discovery of the nature of sociopaths suddenly made ghastly sense of what had happened to me. I remember the horror as well as the relief. The burning need to learn more and yet the impossible struggle to grasp that such alien creatures actually live and breath among us – let alone that I was married to one! I just couldn’t get it! It was only after trawling through so many incidents that had left me hurt and bewildered, only after mentally finding a number of examples for each of Dr Hare’s checklist subjects that I could finally let the truth settle.
So, there I was, only truly believing it once I had made sure with my own internal reference points!
It’s Just Not Me!
Blinkered? Foolish? Or just following my natural instinct to see others as we see ourselves? The jury may be out on that one, but I plump for the last option – because I happen to believe it’s the truth.
That’s how we can remain duped for so long. That’s how they can get away with their repetitive and increasingly outrageous bad behaviour. That’s why when they plead and say sorry, we believe that they are – because that’s how we would respond ourselves if we were in their shoes!
And that is why, for those of us who know, it’s such an uphill battle and constant struggle to convince others that what we’re saying is true. That’s why I regularly heard a set of questions that at the time felt like accusations “But if all this was really going on behind your back, how on earth didn’t you notice anything?” “Why didn’t you check more closely?” Because I would never have imagined behaving in that way, that’s why. Because I believed that the love was real. Because I’ve jolly well got values and a solid understanding of right and wrong – that’s why for goodness sakes!
And yes, I know and fully understand all that now, but at the time it was happening I felt that I was being attacked all over again. If somebody didn’t believe me, then surely it meant that I wasn’t worthy of being believed. If another person was so convinced that I should have noticed something, well then perhaps it meant that I was stupid. The shame kicked in, the self-doubt reared inside me, and I’d slink down to hide myself from the humiliation.
But the thing is, though, how could I have expected someone who hadn’t actually been in my place to understand something that I even struggled with myself – and I’d been the one in the firing line!
I can’t go back in time – well, not yet in any case, so far as I know time travel is still something that has yet to be mastered – but if I could I know now that I would have been much better protected against the innocently persistent questions that were thrown at me by well meaning friends and colleagues. They weren’t doubting me – they were just trying to understand something that was so completely out of their sphere of reference, it just didn’t make sense. But at the time, my response was to recoil and shut up. Drawbridge up, shutters down, and don’t say another word.
These days it’s different. These days I have achieved sufficient distance to answer any number of questions calmly and with compassion. I welcome the questions as an opportunity to test my ability to explain. To strengthen my mental flexibility and to deepen my comprehension.
And with each new conversation, I find I’m becoming better equipped to answer and educate – maybe not to the level of the full experiential comprehension that we share here on this site of course; I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But slowly, surely, I do believe that it’s possible to find ways to help the unsuspecting and incredulous understand and take heed. And I believe that it’s the likes of us, those who’ve been there seen it and got the T-shirt who can become hugely influential in getting the message out there. I realise there’s a long way to go, but the crusade is growing – and I have a feeling in my soul that little by little the worm is turning.
So watch out spaths, psychos and all you other misfits. You can run but you can’t hide for ever, because ready or not we’re coming to get you.